Birds Flock, Fish School, People Tribe

Discussion
Nov 03, 2008

By Tom Ryan

According to Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization, the success of a company depends on its tribes – groups of 20 to 150 people that come together on their own rather than through management, and these tribes have more influence than teams, companies or CEOs in determining how much and what quality of work gets done.

Based on a study of approximately 24,000 people in more than two dozen organizations over a ten-year period, Tribal Leadership explores the basic ways in which people act and react individually and as groups or tribes.

“Great leaders know they can’t instantly change the culture of 100,000 people, or even 50 people, with gimmicks or trendy initiatives,” the authors, Dave Logan and John King, co-wrote in a recent article on slate.com. “Successful executives instead focus on developing their culture one tribe at a time. The heart of leadership development is helping leaders upgrade the effectiveness of their tribes, taking these groups from ‘adequate’ to ‘outstanding.'”

The book said key leverage points between “tribes” have not been mapped, and it breaks down tribal mindset into five distinct stages starting with the least effective and least productive types of tribe members or employees to the most positive and productive. The authors, who are all partners at the management consulting firm CultureSync, then explain how tribal leaders (AKA managers) can elevate the people in their organization to the next level.

The five stages are:

Stage
1:
Employees have a “life sucks” attitude. To upgrade them, managers must provide examples of those who made wise choices and changed their outlook.

Stage 2: Disconnected and disengaged workers believe that they’re stuck. Employees need to be told they’re valued.

Stage 3: This is where 48 percent of workers fall. They use I, me and my constantly. They may work well in an organization, but teamwork doesn’t fit within their comfort zones.

Stage 4: These employees understand the real goal: to make an impact on stakeholders.

Stage 5: Employees at all levels embrace a “noble cause.” Execution becomes the focus.

One fan of the book is Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh, who last week with the authors’ permission began offering a free audio download of the book at Zappos.com.

“At Zappos, our number one focus is on company culture. We believe if we get that right, most of the other stuff, like great customer service and an enduring brand, will happen naturally on its own,” said Mr. Hsieh in a statement. “We’d be thrilled if free access to the audio version of Tribal Leadership on our site encourages others within organizations to focus on attaining great cultures as well. Ultimately, everyone benefits from a happier, more energized, more satisfied and more productive workforce.”

Discussion Questions: What do you think of the metaphor of “tribes” and “tribal culture” driving peak performance across organizations? What are the challenges of applying this theory in establishing a thriving corporate culture?

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11 Comments on "Birds Flock, Fish School, People Tribe"


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Steve Bramhall
Guest
Steve Bramhall
13 years 6 months ago

I do not read anything new here. Maximum team, department, division sizes have been 150 for a long time. The shelves are littered with the same promises from other authors.

Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
13 years 6 months ago

Looks like more than a few commentators have a “Stage 1” attitude today. I haven’t read the book but a cursory review of the book’s website shows that the authors have some nice endorsements and media pick ups. Also, the study is supposed to be based on 24,000 people so my guess is there should be at least a few nuggets of good information here.

It’s kind of like a trade show. If you have the time and inclination to attend, you’ll usually pick up some worthwhile insights.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
13 years 6 months ago

I’ve been writing about the power of tribal marketing to move everything from motorcycles (the Harley Owners Group started by the company) to donuts (Krispy Kreme). However tribal theory is very complex and I’m not sure–as strong a proponent of it as I am–that the authors have captured the real power here. People form tribes which helps explain things like the survival of the human species; religion; civilization; and fraternities. Obviously, all tribes aren’t created equal–and neither are books about them.

Art Williams
Guest
Art Williams
13 years 6 months ago

Just what we needed – something to get our minds off the election for a minute. In my humble opinion, the only thing that this study and book accomplishes is to create wealth for the authors. There will always be companies that are desperately searching for the “answer” to their corporate woes and studies like this will throw them a life preserver to help keep the current management afloat for a little while longer.

Nikki Baird
Guest
Nikki Baird
13 years 6 months ago

Well, at a minimum, I like the shift in emphasis from machine-like (‘roles’ that are more like ‘cogs’) or even war-like language (front-line employees anyone?) to something that embraces the fact that it’s actually people we’re talking about. I’m a little more optimistic that something along these lines will stick–maybe not tribal leadership exactly, but the concepts are something that have surfaced in other leadership works. So maybe we’re making some progress.

Mel Kleiman
Guest
13 years 6 months ago

Here today gone tomorrow. If it gets management to recognize that their employees are more than cogs in a wheel that are replaceable, then it is worth the time to read. But it sounds like the same song sung to a different tune. Build the culture, treat people fairly. Recognize that your employees want respect, a chance to learn and grow and want to work for a boss that is fair and communicates.

What is different here then? It’s an old story, same plot, different names on the characters….

John Gaffney
Guest
John Gaffney
13 years 6 months ago

Great idea. I’m sure it’s a great book. Its timing is terrible. The notion of delighting the few to lead the many is a bit behind the beat right now. Retail executives need to be “do as I do” leaders right now for as many key employees as possible. Lee Iacocca is today’s management icon. Save tribal leadership for the post-rebound offsite meeting.

Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D.
Guest
13 years 6 months ago

There is always a disconnect between the formal and informal networks in companies. Tapping into informal networks has been a part of management strategy for a long time. Naming them “tribes” is not necessarily a better analogy and may be misleading. The advantage of using “informal networks” is that they it implies flexibility–members of the network come and go and the network changes over time. “Tribes” implies a group of people who are bonded together by some fact–blood, beliefs, pledges–and does not have flexible membership.

Dr. Stephen Needel
Guest
13 years 6 months ago

Congrats to the authors on what is sure to be another monumental waste of time. It will go down in history in the same way we’ve figured out that there is no Long Tail, that crowds are not wise, that blinking is a set of learned responses to stimuli, and other pop psych/soc/biz trends.

David Biernbaum
Guest
13 years 6 months ago

In my thirty-plus years working with CPG retailers, manufacturers, and all types of supplier companies, it’s more than observable that the “culture” within any given company is what drives it for better or worse. I have worked within large multinational organizations where I have experienced the uprising or downfall of “tribes’ and “gangs” and “cults” that for a time controlled the shaping of the company’s culture. In smaller companies, it’s more likely that the “cult” is a reflection of the dominant owner’s own culture for better or worse.

But in any case, good leadership makes a concerted effort to influence the culture in a way that serves the ultimate objectives and goals of the company. My experience is that most companies need qualified help in this area. It’s often a huge mistake when owners or managers try to institute it on his or her own without qualified assistance, objectivity, and constant evaluation.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
13 years 6 months ago

Well done to the authors for persuading some sucker of a publisher that they will all make money out of this project. And more power to the guy offering a free download if he thinks it will sucker anyone into being sufficiently impressed to commission him for some paid work. What’s the old saw about diet books? There’s always a new one coming out because the old ones don’t work….

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